McKinstry: Rob Astorino's day-care cutting crusade in Westchester

Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino addresses county officials

Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino addresses county officials and citizens during the State of the County at the Westchester County Courhouse in White Plains. (April 25, 2012) (Credit: Faye Murman)

Day care may cost a lot, but it sure doesn't pay much. That's why Katie Dorelian, a 29-year-old who juggles her full-time job at a day care center in Armonk with college and caring for her 4-year-old wants County Executive Rob Astorino to reconsider his stance on child care.

Ever since Astorino took office on a platform of cutting government, the county subsidies given to working parents who make up to roughly $29,000 a year to help cover day care costs have been vulnerable. His latest move, more than doubling the parent share from 15 percent to 35 percent, adds up to $40 to $100 more a week. Some of the moms who spoke out Tuesday at the New Rochelle Day Nursery say that's the difference between having food on the table and, perhaps, having to drop out of the workforce altogether.

The issue has been simmering for two years

The county executive last year proposed higher fees and lower subsidies for the Title XX scholarship program, which affects more than 200 families, and another county program for low-income families, as a way to trim the county budget by more than $4 million. When the Board of Legislators restored the money (even with a 5 percent increase for parents), Astorino vetoed -- and the board overrode that veto.

But Astorino went ahead with his plan anyway, saying the board didn't properly fund the program. Higher fees were supposed to go into effect June 1, but after a county board lawsuit a judge ruled that the current lower fees will stick -- temporarily.

Astorino has said there's no money for program and the county, through state and federal dollars, already contributes millions to day care. Some people who support his position say government shouldn't be paying for, or even subsidizing, child care for anyone. Period.

But quality day care is essential. It enables parents -- mostly single mothers -- to work, and it's far less expensive than other social programs like welfare and food stamps. It's also a better alternative for many families than using unlicensed mom-and-pop shops and casual arrangements that can be unsafe or unreliable.

So far, proponents' lobbying efforts have had mixed results.

That's why day care advocates are wisely taking a different tack. Sensing they have potential allies in Republicans who back the program, they are turning to them for help.

And they're likely to get it.

"We're definitely for compromise," Minority Leader James Maisano, a Republican from New Rochelle, said of his seven-member caucus. "This is something that government leaders should be able to handle."

Should? Yes. Will? We'll see.

If the Astorino administration "wins" in court, Westchester would join 20 of New York's 62 counties that charge the maximum. Nearby suburban counties actually charge less. Rockland is at 25 percent; Nassau and Putnam, 20 percent; Suffolk, 30 percent; and seven others throughout charge the minimum 10 percent.

Maisano says a deal can be reached. And it's far better than what he called government by litigation.

Lawmakers should sit down, talk and broker an agreement. How about a compromise where parents pay a little more, say 20 or 25 percent, and the county finds money in its $1.8 billion budget to fund the program?

It can be done. And it's far better than paying more lawyers to baby sit the matter.

Gerald McKinstry is a member of the Newsday editorial board.

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